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Histamine intolerance

20 ways to relieve stress

20 ways to relieve stress

If you’re looking to relieve stress may I suggest not reversing into a concrete bollard and causing approximately £1,200 of damage to your vehicle? Yes, that’s what happened to me the week before last.

Why? Because I was rushing.

I’d taken on too much work. The night before my news shift a last minute commission had come in and the only time the celeb could do the interview was after my shift. Not an issue. I’ve been a freelance journalist for almost 20 years and this is part and parcel of the ‘feast or famine’ nature of being self-employed.

The only snag was that I had to be up at 5am *I am useless with early starts* for an event I was covering in London for a new client the following day so the prospect of burning the midnight oil was not exactly appealing. To make matters worse, I received an email from a different editor at 6.30pm the very same evening asking me to amend some marks on a feature I’d written weeks before. The pages were going to press the following day.

Given that I would be out on a job at the crack of dawn the next morning there was nothing for it but to deal with it there and then.

By the end of the night, my head was spinning. I’d worked my news shift, crashed my car, interviewed the celeb, transcribed the hour-long interview, tweaked the feature and tracked the case study down. I rolled into bed gone midnight yet I couldn’t get to sleep. At 1.30am I was still wide awake thinking I had to be up in 3.5 hours.

 

20 ways to relieve stress

 

Then the words of my nutritional therapist and functional medicine practitioner entered my head.

“Stress management is key when addressing chronic health issues. Why? Because no matter how perfect your diet is, how much you exercise or what supplements you take, if you don’t manage your stress your health will be at risk and you will sabotage all your best efforts.”

She’d mentioned this to me on our first meeting and ever since then, I’ve been doing all I can to try and lead a more peaceful life.

Now we all know that acute stress serves an important function – it protects us from danger via a ‘flight or fight’ response by giving us the means to escape a life-threatening situation or face it head-on.

Our heart rate and respiration increase pumping more blood to the muscles, our pupils dilate to let in more light and improve sight, our focus intensifies, our immune system is activated and ready for action while our parasympathetic nervous system is put on hold.

When the stressful situation is over the parasympathetic nervous system kicks back in and the body returns to balance, resting, digesting and reproducing until the next acute stressor occurs.

However, problems arise when the stressors don’t go away – something known as chronic stress – and the sympathetic nervous system remains activated diverting energy away from normal functions such as digestion, repair and reproduction.

“We all know the mental and emotional stresses we face daily – the commute, long hours at work, impossibly busy schedules, problems with finances, problems in our relationships – on and on the list goes,” my nutritionist explains

“What you may not be aware of are other stresses which elicit exactly the same response by the body. These include poor dietary choices causing imbalances in blood sugar, constant sleep deprivation, chronic infections (often gut infections), inflammation and pain, food intolerances, even over-exercising. All these create a stress response and we lurch through the day going from one stressor to another and the stress response is constantly switched on – our bodies are not designed to cope with this type of chronic stress.”

I should perhaps mention at this point that I was also in the midst of my fourth tongue-swelling reaction in as many days. We were experiencing a  heatwave in the UK and extreme temperature is a trigger.

As some of you know, I was recently diagnosed with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. In layman’s terms, my mast cells – white blood cells which form part of our immune system and are in every part of the body – are confused and hyper-sensitive and mistake things like high-histamine food, certain medication, and sunlight as a threat.

The cells are filled with chemical mediators including histamine, heparin, prostaglandins, cytokines which are released in varying amounts once triggered. When this happens my tongue or throat usually swells up. Sometimes I also experience severe itching in my scalp and limbs, chronic fatigue, stabbing pains all over my body and behind my eyes. I also bruise very easily – on the day I saw the consultant who finally diagnosed me – my entire right thigh was black.

The reason I mention this is because stress is a huge trigger too and I had not one but EVERY single reaction listed, which is additional proof that I need to get back on track with chilling out.

20 ways to relieve stress

 

So to celebrate National Relaxation Day [15 August 2018], I’ve rounded up 20 ways to find some balance. As de-stressing can only benefit us all, I hope these tips help you too.

20 ways to relieve stress

  1. On waking, wait half an hour before switching your phone on. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve reached straight for my device and ended up responding to WhatsApp group messages or watching an Instagram story, inadvertently wasting precious minutes in the morning, which then made me feel rushed. Give yourself the chance to wake up properly, nourish your body with healthy food and set some positive intentions for the day ahead.
  2. Limit time spent on social media. Things like Facebook groups are great for providing a sense of community for those of us who work remotely but when comments are overly negative, unsupportive or just downright mean they can dampen your mood. Dip in and out and avoid becoming involved in lengthy debates.
  3. Get organised. If I’m working in London or have a news shift booked in I pick out my outfit – right down to my underwear – and hang it on the back of the door. Likewise, I sort out my handbag and prepare all my own food as buying lunch out is no longer an option with my MCAS issues.
  4. Breathe deeply and slowly. Even if it’s just for three minutes. This is instantly relaxing and helps me at night when I need to calm my racing mind.
  5. Employ mindfulness. It’s not as hard as it sounds and there are plenty of guided apps out there like Calm and Headspace. I also visited a fantastic meditation studio in London and also found solace in a weekend meditation/wellness retreat at Chilston Park in Kent earlier this year.
  6. Avoid pointless arguments.
  7. Remember that your time isn’t necessarily set in stone. I’m a bit useless at this and like order (surprising when I’ve been freelance for 18 years and there’s little routine) so I can feel a little flustered if plans change at the last minute but more often than not they end up working out for the best so I try to employ this positive mindset now, which brings me onto my next point.
  8. If you cannot alter a situation, take a different perspective. Think ‘In what way could this situation be positive?’ Or ‘Can this have value or is it useful?’
  9. Keep a journal. Writing your thoughts down can be incredibly therapeutic and help you organise them.
  10. Avoid procrastination which can lead to feelings of not being good enough.
  11. Allow an extra half an hour for everything you do. Meeting a friend? Have a date? Catching the train (in which case I leave an HOUR earlier). Far better to be too early than too late.
  12. Turn your phone off. If I’m on deadline or trying to get a piece finished I put my phone on aeroplane mode.
  13. Create boundaries. I work from home a lot but often friends and family view this time as a chance to pop in for a coffee and a catch-up. I used to feel bad about turning them down but now they understand.
  14. Don’t overschedule. I’m guilty of cramming too much in and have been trying to make every Sunday a relaxation day but for the past two weeks I’ve ended up working. I SHALL get back on the horse!
  15. Stop trying to please everybody and learn how to say no. If not, you’ll end up being run ragged.
  16. Run a bath. It’s cliche. It works. I wrote about it here. Usually, I throw in a handful of Epsom salts, but as part of the day job earlier this year, I was sent Olverum Bath Oil and I’m now a convert. It contains no fewer than 10 essential oils including geranium, lavender and eucalyptus leaving your muscles relaxed and your bathroom smelling divine.
  17. Go to bed an hour early and wake up feeling refreshed, productive and ready to tackle the day.
  18. Move more. Exercise is a great way to clear the mind and was always my go-to for beating stress. I was a former gym bunny and tennis was my main sport. Due to my MCAS, spin classes and running are out, and I can’t play tennis competitively as vibrations – from activity to those felt on aircraft – can cause my mast cells to degranulate. Read here about the time my tongue started to swell on a long-haul flight. Now I’ve found solace in swimming and fair weather paddle boarding when I have the energy.
  19. Take up a new hobby that you love. Blogging anyone?
  20. KEEP. IT. SIMPLE.

What are your top tips for managing stress? How are you relaxing today? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If you think this post might help someone who is struggling, please feel free to share this post or tag them.

Helen's Health, Wellness

10 ways to rediscover your pzazz

10 ways to find your pzazz

Pzazz is one of my favourite words.

For those in the dark, it means ‘a new lease of life’ or ‘get up and go’.

But far too often we lose our pzazz as the trials and tribulations of daily life take over.

And while we all know the importance of keeping stress at bay it can be hard to take action when you’re firefighting one problem after another and, quite frankly, feel as though you’re wading through treacle.

Inevitably the obstacles become the focus and before you know it you’re struggling to recall the last time you laughed.

I was stuck in this rut for most of 2016 when my health went haywire, read the night it all began here. I struggled to see light at the end of the tunnel but recently something shifted.  I no longer mourn my old life and I’ve finally learned to accept what is happening and adjust.

In fact, I now believe that my body was simply screaming at me to slow down. I wasn’t listening. So it just stopped working properly to make me sit up and take note. Slowly but surely my pzazz is slowly returning so below, as part of Stress Awareness Month, I’ve rounded up some of the simple hacks that have helped me along the way.

10 ways to rediscover your pzazz

TREAT YOURSELF
It’s so easy to forget that life is for living NOW when you’re being dealt nothing but lemons but now is the time to treat yourself. If you fancy a weekend away, book it. If a massage is calling your name, get one. Feel confident in a gorgeous outfit? Wear it. Fancy some fresh flowers to brighten up your home? Buy them. Whatever you do, make sure it lights you up inside.

BE INSPIRED
By a blog. By a person. By a podcast. I am currently reading three different books – yes, three. I dip in and out of each one depending on my mood. One is motivational. One is autobiographical and one is light reading. I’ve always enjoyed the escapism that reading brings and it’s my go-to method of relaxation. Oh, and the books are proper paperback jobbies. No worries about blue light interfering with sleep patterns this end.

INVEST IN YOUR HEALTH
It has taken me a long time to get my head around this. I think nothing of servicing my car or the annual boiler check. But when it comes to my wellbeing it’s as though I have a mental block. I used to pound my body at the gym or on the tennis court but would never fork out for a sports massage even though my muscles were begging for one. I simply viewed the spend as a waste of money. Not now. Next week I have an appointment booked with a London-based nutritionist. The consultation fee is eye-wateringly expensive, as are the tests, but I’ve been saving every penny. There’s only one of me and if I can finally get a handle on what is going on with my body and wake up feeling as though I’m not coming down with the flu I’ll be over the moon.  Plus, a healthier Helen will be far more useful to everyone.

10 ways to rediscover your pzazz

TRY SOMETHING NEW
I often think back to 2016 when I was feeling desperately rotten and in and out of hospital. 2017, although not cured, was better. I had a management plan and was determined to start living my life again. So I pledged to try something new whenever my body would allow.  I gave e-biking a spin, which was great as the bike was equipped with a battery pack which gave me a little boost whenever I needed it! I also visited Austria and Tenerife for the first time and earlier this year I tried a yoga and meditation retreat. New experiences introduce you to new people and give you a different perspective on life. Most of all, they’re fun!

LEARN TO SAY NO
Friends, family, colleagues, PRs and even acquaintances know they can always call on me to let off steam, review pitch ideas and CVs, write letters (you wouldn’t believe how many letters I get asked to pen – from job proposals to letters of complaint). I never used to mind – helping people out is in my DNA. But at one point last year I realised I was being run ragged by others peoples’ demands and putting their needs before my own which left me feeling depleted especially as my health was in such a bad way. So last year I made a commitment to start saying no to certain things.  It instantly took the pressure off. The trouble is if you’re good-natured, you can end up feeling guilty. Here’s how I did it.

ALLOW AN EXTRA HALF AN HOUR
Although I’m a pretty punctual person, I’m always rushing from here to there and useless with early starts. The very thought of waking up at the crack of dawn results in me spending half the night lying awake in an anxious state. Now, one night a week I go to bed at 9pm.  Hardly, rock and roll but my body thanks me for it. It also means I wake earlier. It’s a fantastic feeling easing into the mornings rather than rushing around and I’m far more productive work-wise.

10 ways to rediscover your pzazz

DON’T OVERSCHEDULE
I rarely have a day off. It’s the nature of freelance journalism. And if I’m not working the day job, I can be found creating content for the blog or unpacking boxes from the recent house move. (No wonder I’m single!)  However, I’ve recently given myself permission to have a day off at the weekend and catch up with friends. The result? I’m far more creative, happy and feel alive again!

DITCH YOUR PHONE
I don’t mean for good. But give yourself a mini-digital detox. I try to turn my off  my phone by 9pm during the week and make a conscious effort to leave my device at home if I’m out and about doing chores or popping to the shops. This stops me feeling ‘always on’ and is unbelievably liberating.

HAVE A BATH
It’s an oldie but a goodie. I wrote about how a bath helped me take control here. Just add Epsom salts, lavender oil, a bath pillow and feel the stress melt away.

REMEMBER THAT NOTHING STAYS THE SAME FOREVER
Whenever I have relapses or inevitable rough periods with my health or whatever I try and remind myself that this moment shall pass. After all, nothing good or bad in life stays the same forever. I also make a list of every tiny thing I’m grateful for (and remember that there is always someone far worse off).

Did you find these tips useful? Do you have any you’d like to add? How have you rediscovered your pzazz?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If you found this article useful or feel it may help someone else please do share the post or tag them. 

Alternatively, if you’d like to read our celebrity interviews check our chats with Jonny Wilkinson, Katie Piper, Pat Cash, Gail Porter, Ryan Sidebottom, Andrew Barton and James Duigan.

 

Helen's Health

The one time it sucks to be single

The one time it sucks to be single

I’m single.

I’m not embarrassed by it.

Of course, I’ve had relationships – my longest lasting 8.5 years – but for the past four, I’ve been on my lonesome (three-month dalliances hardly count.)

I’ve always subscribed to the motto that I’d rather be single than in the wrong relationship. And while most of the uncouplings have ended amicably – I’m friends with nearly all of my ex-boyfriends – I have endured some dating disasters along the way much to the amusement of my friends.

“I usually go for trophy girlfriends but I’m trying to change my ways,” announced one chap within minutes of rocking up to our first date.

“Why can’t we go for a walk in the woods? I don’t believe you’re outdoorsy. Women always lie on their profile,” accused another on our first encounter.

In fact, my love life has been something of a hot topic among friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers over the years.

I’ve had everything levelled at me:

“Are you ridiculously fussy?” (Um, no.)

“Why are you single?” (Um, I’ve not met the right person yet.)

“You’ll be left on the shelf.” (Er, thanks for that.)

“You never give anyone a chance.” (Um, I do. I date. Heck, I even went on a second date with the walk in the woods guy!)

“You go for the wrong type.” (Not intentionally. I promise.)

You always put up barriers” (True. One of my exes called me ‘The Great Barrier Reef’. It’s something I’m addressing after discovering the Psyma app)

The one time it sucks to be single

“You need to get a move on if you want to have children.” (Don’t get me started on this one. It’s just insensitive on SO many levels.)

“You work too hard. You’ll never meet anyone at home sat behind your desk.” (True.)

“Is it hard being single at your age?” (Hmmm, let me think about that.)

Ordinarily, my stock answer would go something like this: “Why on earth would it be hard? I’m not defined by my marital status.”

Don’t get me wrong, of course it would be fan-bloody-tastic to meet a kindred spirit to make wonderful memories with, share special moments, look after and cherish. No-one can deny that blissful feeling of being in love. It’s the best.

But my philosophy has always been it will happen when it’s supposed to so. I’ve always channelled my energies into making the most of my life now, enjoying precious time with my friends and family rather than dwelling on what I don’t have.

Except, last night my thoughts turned to being single, most unusual for me.

Why?

Because my autoimmune symptoms have phenomenally flared up. It’s not easy when you’re battling an invisible chronic illness that makes you feel utterly dreadful and requires every ounce of energy just to make it through the day, especially as I naively assumed I was on the mend.

I’d been making SUPER progress and even went on a ski trip for work last month, something I would never have envisaged 2.5 years ago when my health started acting up (Read the night it all began here)

A•L•P•I•N•E L•I•V•I•N•G

A post shared by Helsy/Relax Ya Self To Health (@relaxyaself2h) on

Because I’d been feeling much better I pushed myself and, approximately two weeks ago, decided to go swimming (the type of activity I’d do on a ‘rest’ day when I was well). Except on the evening in question, my body wasn’t feeling quite right.

My legs felt heavy as I walked to the pool. But I ignored the signs.

I ADORE exercise. It’s something I’ve missed hugely since my health took a nosedive – activity and heat can set off my tongue swelling reactions – and I was thrilled to be doing something I enjoy.

I swam one length, then two. As many as 14 laps later, I hauled myself out of the water very much swept up in the delightful endorphin-triggered buzz that exercise brings.

Boy, did it turn out to be a mistake

Over the 12 hours that followed my body crashed. And for the past 14 days I’ve been hitting the hay around 7pm most evenings to try and get a grip on episcleritis (painful inflammation in the eye), stabbing pains, and dreadful fatigue consuming my body.

On the outside, I look normal. Somehow, I’ve been summoning up the energy to work news shifts but inside I’m permanently exhausted.

The one time it sucks to be single

I’d forgotten how awful it is to feel like this…to wake up from ten hours sleep, feeling utterly unrefreshed and as though you’ve only had two.

But what does this have to do with being single?

Well, so far I’ve mostly survived this 2.5 year journey on my own. The uncertainty, the gazillions of hospital appointments, and generally feeling like crap.

*Disclaimer* I’m very blessed in that I have a wonderfully supportive family and good friends around me but more often than not I hide how I’m really feeling because I’d hate to burden them any further.  I also appreciate that I’m one of the lucky ones – I can still function when many others can’t – plus I’ve also learnt a lot about myself along the way.

Nonetheless, this battle is exhausting. Sometimes you can’t put on a brave face. And sometimes you just need a big MAN hug.

So, as I lay in bed last night feeling thoroughly rotten, a thought popped into my mind for the first time in my life.

“Being single with an invisible illness really sucks.”

At that moment I just wanted someone to hold me close and say: “Don’t worry, you’ll be okay. You will feel better. Everything will work out I promise.”

Or, at the very least take the P out of me and make me laugh hysterically!

Of course, I’m in a much better frame of mind today. That out of character thought was fleeting.

But that’s the thing with chronic illness. It affects you in all sorts of ways you’d never think imaginable.

Can you relate? Are you single? What do you like/dislike about it? Do you have an invisible illness that you’re dealing with on your own? 

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.  

Please do share or tag someone in this article if you think it might help them. Thank you!

Helen's Health

6 Christmassy traditions I’ll miss this year

6 Christmassy traditions I'll miss this year

Barely a day goes by without another Christmassy survey being released but I almost spat out my porridge when I read an article in The Times this week reporting that British Christmas traditions were being lost in favour of trends imported from the United States and Europe.

Apparently, a third of people no longer leave out stockings and a quarter have stopped watching the Queen’s Christmas message although turkey dinners and decorating Christmas trees remain popular.

Call me old-fashioned but I love settling down to watch the monarch’s annual broadcast at 3pm (just me?!), along with Top of The Pops – no matter how bad the songs.

Personally, not doing this would feel peculiar, just as spending Christmas in a hot country would feel odd.

Yet, despite my penchant for Christmassy customs, I’ll have to (reluctantly) break a few this year because of my ongoing health issues. Here are the ones I’ll miss the most…

KISSING UNDER THE MISTLETOE
Okay. This one’s a bit misleading. Although I’m single, I do NOT go around snogging guys willy-nilly BUT I do have to be careful when it comes to exchanging kisses. Personal experience has taught me that I cannot lock lips with someone who’s been drinking red wine. This happened very recently with a guy I was dating.

One minute I was enjoying the moment, the next I was frantically looking for my meds to combat the tongue swelling. Grapes – a relatively high histamine fruit  – tend to set me off so I avoid eating them but I never imagined I’d react after an innocent kiss. M’s eyes almost fell out of his head when I pulled out my medication bag packed with adrenaline pens, steroids and antihistamine. Talk about passion killer.

DANCING ALL NIGHT AT THE CHRISTMAS PARTY
Yes. The old me would have been making a fool of herself on the dancefloor for most of the evening. But because sweat, heat and exercise seem to set off my reactions, I now have to pace myself. The night before last I was at a work Christmas bash.

My coping mechanism involved dancing for three songs, then heading outside into the freezing cold for a minute or two to bring my body temperature down. But it seemed to do the trick and I didn’t have a reaction! *Yay* I’m due to see a mast cell specialist in January and am hoping he’ll be able to explain why my body is misbehaving in such a bizarre manner.

ENJOYING A BAILEYS
So I’ve never been a big drinker. One glass and I’m tipsy. But I do love a rum and coke on holiday or a cheeky Baileys Irish Cream or Amarula on the rocks at Christmas. However, anything aged or fermented (high histamine) sets off my reactions so I’ve not had an alcoholic drink in a year and a half.

Even so, I managed to last until 1am at the Christmas do…on sparkling water. The truth is I had enormous fun with my sloshed colleagues and was simply grateful for the fact that I was there and managed to remain reaction-free for the entire evening. Two years earlier I ended up hospitalised with my very first lip swelling incident and missed the party!

FEASTING ON CHEESE…
Yes. It’s not exactly healthy but being a non-meat eater, cheese used to form quite a substantial part of my diet. Wensleydale with apricot, French brie, mature cheddar, oh how I used to love a festive cheese board. Sadly, these are all medium to high histamine foods (along with the grapes) so I have to avoid them. Saying that, I can tolerate mozzarella so all is not lost!

…AND CHRISTMAS DINNER
I’m not talking turkey but my celery and rice roast! It’s really not as awful as it sounds. I used to love rustling this up for Christmas dinner but as one of the key ingredients is cheddar cheese it’s off the menu. Sadly, I’ve not found a low-histamine substitute that would make the dish work. The good thing is I’m a fan of sprouts, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes, parsnips and sweet potatoes so I’ll still feast well regardless.

INDULGING IN TERRY’S CHOCOLATE ORANGE AND CLEMENTINES
As a child, I’d always find a clementine or two hiding in my stocking. These easy peelers are by far my favourite fruit and I dearly miss their intense juicy tanginess. However, all forms of citrus are high histamine so they’re off Santa’s shopping list along with Terry’s Chocolate Orange – my FAVOURITE Christmas chocolate.

I’m not complaining though. These Christmassy traditions may have disappeared for the time being but at least I now have a management plan for the reactions. I’m no longer fearful of the future and ridiculously excited for the festive season.

Can you relate to any of the above? Do you have any food intolerances or allergies that will change the way you approach the holiday period? What tips do you have for coping ? I’d love to hear from you.

Have a wonderful Christmas!

xx

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Helen's Health, In the news

7 REASONS WHY I’M GLAD I FACED MY FEARS

Facing my fears

Fear. It’s a horrible thing that can so easily take over your life. I know. Last year I was consumed by it when my health went haywire.

I was anxious because doctors were unable to tell me why my tongue was spontaneously swelling almost every day. I was worried because specialists could not explain why my right foot mysteriously stopped functioning or why I was experiencing numbness in my face and hands and stabbing pains all over my body.

My stress levels were through the roof and I grieved for the sporty life – ironically tennis and gym classes were huge stress-relievers for me – I once lived. I was exhausted. I felt isolated. And I feared for the future. By December 2016 – one year after the first lip and tongue swelling episode that landed me in the resuscitation unit of the local hospital – I was enormously fed up.

So I made a decision…to launch a blog. The hope was to find an answer to my health problems, help others experiencing similar issues and focus my mind on ways to relax and cope with everything life seemed intent on chucking my way. Except – that all-too-familiar knot in the pit of my stomach – a.k.a fear – was never far away.

I was worried I’d fail. I was worried I’d become a laughing stock or criticised for oversharing. I was worried I wasn’t skilled or technical enough. I mean, what the heck did I know about launching a blog? Indecision hung over me. But then I had another nasty tongue swelling episode. I couldn’t go on like this. I needed an answer. The blog would help me get there. The plan was back on.

Helen Gilbert seeks diagnosis for baffling condition

So I bought a whiteboard and set myself some goals. I outlined why I was launching my blog, what I wanted to achieve from it and then put in the hard graft to make it happen.

Every evening and weekend for six months, in between the day job and hospital appointments, I’d write posts, sketch out designs, take and edit pictures, learn about SEO, social media, content creation as well as the technical aspects of running a blog. It was daunting. I felt way out of my comfort zone. And I was shattered. The goal was to launch in May 2017. Somehow I did it.

At times it was (and still is) hugely frustrating – I’m ridiculously impatient when it comes to learning about anything technical and monumentally dislike not being immediately competent at anything. And on more than one occasion I’ve questioned whether I’m GOOD enough and have certainly been tempted to throw in the towel.

Fortunately, a quick glance my whiteboard reminds me exactly why I’m doing this and points me back on the right track. Yes, blogging is hard work but ultimately it’s a passion. So far the journey has been an exciting, educational, enjoyable, cathartic and, for the most part, a happy one. I’m hopeful that I’m one step closer to finding a diagnosis (see below).

Here, I’ve rounded up 10 reasons why I’m glad I pushed through the fear and launched my blog in the hope it will inspire others to go after their dreams.

7 reasons I'm glad I faced my fear

NAMED TOP 10 UK MENTAL HEALTH BLOG
I’ve always criticised myself for not being good enough and too long in the tooth to start a blog and there were so many times when I wanted to jack it all in for an easier life. So, you can imagine my surprise when I received an email from industry experts Vuelio UK last week stating that Relax Ya Self To health had been named one of its Top 10 UK Mental Health blogs of 2017. I was flabbergasted – especially as this time last year I hadn’t even decided on a name! Throughout the process, I’ve berated myself but what I’ve come to realise throughout this journey is that it’s OK to give yourself a break and not be so hard on yourself.

I’M CLOSER TO A DIAGNOSIS
I was lucky enough to interview former CNN journalist Yasmina Ykelenstam during the course of research for an article. This inspirational lady has put histamine intolerance and mast cell issues on the map thanks to sharing her own personal journey on her blog healinghistamine.com.
Astonishingly, it took Yasmina almost 30 years and 68 doctors to get a histamine intolerance diagnosis and a further three years and two doctors to be told she had a mast cell activation disorder. Since then I’ve been in touch with support group UKMasto.org to discuss my symptoms and my GP has referred me to a mast cell specialist. I am hugely grateful for the awareness-raising work Yasmina has done and find comfort in her fantastic content and am hopeful the consultant will be able to shed further light on my complex medical history when I see him in January.

I’VE MADE SOME SUPER FRIENDS ALONG THE WAY
I’ve worked as a freelance journalist for 18 years but blogging is a whole new world. So I was delighted when Rachel Spencer, a fellow journo contacted me about a story I was writing for a newspaper and told me she was also launching a pet blog The Paw Post in May. We hit it off instantly and have been supporting one another ever since with regular natters on the phone and words of encouragement.

I’VE HAD FUN
Yes. This is the best bit. I’ve experienced all sorts of things I mightn’t have tried in the past from a Hypnotherapy Mind Massage to a Pranic Healing session and E-biking up Box Hill. I’ve also interviewed well-known faces with inspiring health stories including Jonny Wilkinson, Katie Piper and Gail Porter.

IT’S MADE ME SLOW DOWN
Before I started the blog I was hugely anxious. I had no sense of control over the weird goings-on in my body and I was too scared to eat because of the reactions. And then I launched Relax Ya Self To Health. Life was even more hectic and stressful because I had double the workload (the blog on top of the day job). However, since May I’ve learnt that stress, alongside food, a lack of sleep and a rise in body temperature, is a huge trigger. Training myself to relax has not been easy but I realise now it’s essential if I want to get my health back.

I’VE FOUND A COMMUNITY THAT GETS IT
Yep. That’s right. Over on Instagram, I’ve discovered a supportive community of chronic illness sufferers who totally understand what it’s like to live with nasty reactions, bizarre pains, autoimmune problems and a restricted diet. It’s a huge help to discover that you’re not alone.

IT’S GIVEN ME (AND OTHERS) HOPE
Writing *stuff* down has been incredibly cathartic. It’s afforded a sense of control and I’ve rediscovered a sense of hope. And although I’m not in this for the thanks, whenever I receive a kind message from a reader it makes my heart sing.  One lady recently wrote this on my ‘How to travel with allergies’ post. “My husband has an allergy due to which he didn’t use to come with me for a trip. Your article was a great help for me. I shared this article with him and now we go for a regular outing remembering all your tips shared in this article. Thank you for sharing!”

Those words made me light up inside and realise that breaking through my fear was most certainly worth it.

Are you thinking about launching a blog? Do you have hopes and dreams or is fear holding you back? I’d love to hear from you.

Please comment below (your email address won’t be shared) or over on Facebook, Twitter on Instagram.

If you think this post might help someone else, please feel free to share. 

Helen's Health

REVIEW: WHY I TRIED PRANIC HEALING

Why I tried pranic healing

Have you ever heard of the term pranic healing? I certainly hadn’t until I went to a Christmas Fayre held at my sister’s gym last year. We’d gone for a nose around the stalls in the hope of stumbling across some inspirational gifts and hadn’t planned to stay late as my health was playing up at the time and I felt permanently exhausted.

But then our eyes fell upon an elegant lady performing what looked to be a bizarre mid-air finger flicking exercise. Intrigued, we edged a little closer only to spot another woman doing exactly the same thing. Seated in front of the pair of them were two visitors with their eyes closed.

Perplexed, my sister and I looked at each other. What on earth was going on? “There’s a sign over there,” I whispered behind my hand. “It’s something called pranic healing. It sounds a little woo-woo but maybe, I should give it a go?”

Now, I’ve always been an open-minded person. I am well aware that alternative therapies such as reflexology and acupuncture work for some people and not others. It’s unsurprising. We’re all unique. And I say ‘good for you’ if you manage to find an alternative or conventional medicine or treatment that makes you feel better. At the time my health was spectacularly misbehaving, read the night it all began here, so I was suitably intrigued.

The lady who’d been performing the odd-looking hand movements smiled and politely introduced herself as Angela Rigby. For 14 years she’d run a business in the fire and flood restoration industry so was used to dealing with people overcome by stress and a sudden change of circumstance. However, in 2007 she was introduced to this form of no-touch energy healing and was so impressed that she decided to train in it a couple of years later under the Institute of Pranic Healing UK and Ireland and has been using the method ever since.

The complementary therapy, which has won praise from author and philanthropist Tony Robbins, was founded about 30 years ago by the late Master Choa Kok Sui, an internationally acclaimed author, healer, chemical engineer, businessman, spiritual teacher and humanitarian.

Stress, grief or trauma can cause blockages

His belief was that physical ailments first appear as energetic disruptions in the aura – the invisible bio-electromagnetic field around us – before manifesting as problems in the body. According to Angela, pranic healing, which is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘prana’ for energy, aims to free up blockages in the aura and increase and circulate this “life energy” around the physical body so that it can rebalance and in turn focus on repairing and healing itself.

Apparently, stress, grief or any kind of trauma can cause blockages disrupting the flow of energy between the 11 chakras – whirling energy centres – which can then result in physical problems.

“We need to keep the energy body clean in the same way we keep the physical body clean,” Angela explains. “It can become congested with our stress energies. For instance, if you’re the type of person that dwells on something negative, you can end up becoming quite overwhelmed.

“Your emotions like anger, frustration and irritation, can just take over and you become bogged down. You can’t think straight and your energy flow is disrupted. It’s similar to a blocked drain but then you unplug it and the water flows. Pranic healing techniques can help keep your energy system clear and help with physical, mental or emotional issues.”

My tummy was making loud gurgling noises

At the time Angela invited me to The Anise Wellness & Skincare Retreat in Reigate, Surrey for a session but I was here, there and everywhere with hospital appointments. Nonetheless, I recently took her up on the offer of an hour-long session with the hope that it might aid the healing process in my body and help get my bizarre tongue swelling and throat closing reactions under control.

So, what happened once the door was closed?

I was asked to lie down on my back with my eyes closed while Angela did her thing. She was working on my aura, so refrained from physically touching me. Even so, Angela warned that I might experience unusual bodily sensations. She wasn’t wrong. One minute I was hot, the next I was cold and much to my horror my tummy was making loud gurgling noises. Apparently, this is perfectly normal and a sign of energy shifts within the body. Bizarrely, I was overcome with a fit of giggles halfway through. Talk about embarrassing. I apologised profusely but Angela calmly explained that these things happen.

VERDICT:
Lying on a massage bed without being pushed, pulled or pummelled was surreal but I wasn’t there for that. The experience was relaxing in as much as I did absolutely nothing for an hour, which is most unlike me. Unbelievably, that evening I had an ENTIRE night of uninterrupted sleep – usually, I toss, turn and wake up at least three or four times. Needless to say, I was brimming with energy the following day.

Although the treatment did not reduce the frequency of my tongue swelling reactions in the weeks that followed, Angela did explain that a course of sessions is generally needed rather than a one-off. Regardless, I’d slept like a log so was thrilled.

Angela also encouraged me to look at the way I respond to situations and to become more aware of negative emotions and feelings that may not be serving me. I’ve since begun to notice patterns in the way I react to things and am working on becoming far more mindful.

For more information visit: http://www.ukpranichealing.co.uk/angela-rigby/

Relax Ya Self to Health was invited to try this session in exchange for a review

**Pranic healing is not intended to replace orthodox medicine but rather to complement it. Pranic healers are not medical doctors. They should not medically diagnose clients, prescribe medications and/or medical treatments or interfere with prescribed medical treatments.  

 

Helen's Health, Wellness

A plea for help: Get me a diagnosis

Helen Gilbert seeks diagnosis for baffling condition

Do you remember that time my tongue started to swell up on a long-haul flight? Well, it happened again. Only, this time I was on my way back from Austria. “Would you like anything to eat?” the air hostess politely asked as we departed Innsbruck for London Gatwick. Ordinarily, I’d decline but didn’t on this occasion.

I’ve previously written about the need to be prepared if you’re travelling with allergies or, in my case, suffer from bizarre reactions that cause your airway to close up. Usually, I’m well-organised but I’d been on a press trip with a jam-packed itinerary and ran out of time on the last day.

Unlike my companions, I couldn’t eat at the airport because every option contained a trigger food. And by the time I’d settled into my plane seat, I was absolutely famished. So, I did something I would never usually do while cruising thousands of feet above the ground – I bought a packet of crisps. I quickly scanned the ingredients list; potato, sunflower oil, and salt and figured I’d be safe.

Uncomfortable sensations in body

“I’ll be fine with this,” I smiled, before quickly working my way through the bag and drifting off into the land of nod. Shortly afterwards, I awoke with a start. “We’re circling because there was a bird strike involving another plane and the runway’s being cleared,” our friendly host explained.

Being an animal lover, I’d usually feel for the deceased flock in a situation like this but my mind was distracted by the uncomfortable sensations in my body. “I don’t feel right,” I blurted out as beads of sweat trickled down my forehead. “Oh no, in what way?” the PR replied. “My throat feels sticky. It’s hard to swallow.”

Now, our host was well versed in the trials and tribulations of my baffling condition. Fortunately, I’d only had one reaction on the three-day press trip; that wasn’t particularly nasty so she immediately knew what to do. “Let me see your tongue,” she demanded. Her eyes widened. “It’s enormous,” she screamed before running off to get more water from the back of the plane.

Airway affected every time

As some of you know, my peculiar tongue swelling and throat closing reactions first took hold 20 months ago and doctors remain perplexed as to why they occur. Histamine intolerance – the body’s inability to metabolise the chemical histamine found in certain foods– is one possible theory. Symptoms mimic an allergic reaction – in many people these present in the form of a rashes or itching – but my airway is affected every time, which means I must carry an emergency kit of antihistamines, steroids and adrenaline pens wherever I go.

Trigger foods include lemons, limes, oranges, mature cheese, Marmite, alcohol, anything aged or fermented. Oh, and vinegar, which is in everything – from condiments and pickles to salad dressing and makes eating out and buying lunch almost impossible.  What’s more baffling is that my symptoms also occur when I get hot (which, incidentally also happened on the flight) or do any form of cardio, so I’m constantly walking on eggshells.

Yes, I was hungry on the plane but, with hindsight, I was immensely stupid buying those crisps. Vinegar may not have been listed as an ingredient, but the production belt at the factory could easily have been contaminated. According to my immunologist, antihistamines must be taken at the onset of a reaction to halt the swelling, which can become too difficult to control once set in yet I’d unwittingly wasted valuable time in the ten minutes I’d been asleep.

Vicious circle

“Here, drink this,” the PR instructed as I scrambled for my meds. I shovelled the pills down my throat before being ushered off the plane. The reaction was pretty horrendous – my tongue remained swollen for three days, the medication wiped me out and I suffered from severe brain fog and writer’s block – not ideal for the day job.

Despite being super careful with my diet since – the reactions are now happening again almost EVERY DAY. This requires more antihistamine to control the swelling which – in itself creates a vicious circle – as it can inhibit production of the diamine oxidase (DAO) enzyme in the gut that’s responsible for breaking down the histamine in food.

Over the past year and eight months, I have deduced that certain foods, heat and exercise – even dancing – can set off a reaction but, astonishingly, nobody can explain why and my immunologist admits he has never seen anything like it in his life. He has now prescribed stronger daily antihistamine in the hope it will break the cycle of swelling, which he says is very unusual especially as it is always symmetrical.

I’m determined to try and carry on as normal but am equally desperate to raise awareness, find a reason and gain some sort of control. I’ll let you know how I get on but in the meantime, if you’re going through a similar experience or know someone who is, please do get in touch, share or comment on my post.

Someone somewhere must know the answer.

 

 

 

 

Health, Helen's Health

THE NIGHT IT ALL BEGAN

The night my health took a turn for the worse

I’m no saint but on the whole, I’ve always tried to adopt a relatively healthy lifestyle. Although quite partial to the odd chocolate croissant and cappuccino, I’m one of those rather annoying people who would rather spend a weekend blasting balls on a tennis court or running outside than stuck indoors watching a TV Box Set.

I think nothing of blitzing up green juices and smoothies and at the risk of sounding like a total bore, I’ve never smoked, rarely drink alcohol and have followed a meat-free diet since the age of 13. Except on December 3 2015 my life was turned upside down when I was rushed to hospital with my first ever allergic reaction. It was a particular bad boy – life-threatening in fact –  and came on entirely out of the blue.

On the night in question, an old school friend had popped over for a drink and a catch-up.  I’d warned him in advance that I might be drooling – not in that way. Earlier in the day I’d had dental work carried out on an excruciatingly painful molar tooth which, it later emerged, was dying but by the time Stephen arrived at my house my mouth felt pretty normal and I was yakking ten to the dozen as usual.

“My mouth felt pretty normal – I was yakking ten to the dozen as usual”

Only, an hour later I became aware of a strange sensation in my upper lip. It felt heavy and tingled. “My lip feels weird,” I blurted out to Stephen, who was sitting in the armchair opposite me. He peered over.  “It looks fine to me,” he replied nonplussed.

So I let it go for the rest of the evening only when I went to wave him goodbye at the front door, I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror. Either my mate was being polite or needed his eyesight testing. Staring back at me was a massively swollen top lip.

By now it was midnight. I awkwardly brushed my teeth, negotiating the horrendous trout pout as I went, before climbing into bed, and prayed that the swelling would subside by the morning.

“I awkwardly brushed my teeth, negotiating the horrendous trout pout as I went”

Except, as I tried to nod off, I became aware of an intolerable itching in my throat. A voice inside told me to call 111 for advice – something I never do – but thank goodness I did. The operator was a calm and lovely chap who explained that the situation might be serious and he’d need to send a paramedic round asap to check me over. As I lived alone, he told me to stay on the line with him.

Within minutes a first responder had arrived at my house. He quickly injected me with antihistamine injection before calling an ambulance. Moments later two paramedics arrived at my door. “Ohhh, someone’s been in a fight with Frank Bruno,” quipped one, before turning serious when I refused to go to the hospital.

“There are people far needier than me, I wouldn’t want to take up a valuable NHS bed,” I exclaimed, before being told in no uncertain terms that I was having a severe anaphylactic reaction. “But I’ve never suffered from allergies,” I meekly protested as I walked up the stairs to gather my things. Precisely two minutes later my throat started to close up.

“Precisely two minutes later my throat started to close up.”

After this moment everything is a blur. I was pumped full of adrenaline twice  – first in the ambulance and then later on in the A&E resuscitation ward – before being admitted to hospital. Doctors asked if I’d eaten or done anything different on the night of the attack. I hadn’t.

The only thing I could think of was the dental work on the massively hyper-sensitive molar tooth earlier in the day but then I’d had a number of fillings in the past and had never experienced a reaction before to the anaesthetic. I was later given steroids, referred to an allergy specialist and sent on my way.

I shrugged the episode off as a random event, especially as I’d always been relatively fit and well. Little did I know then that my health – something I’d always worked so devotedly to maintain – was about to unravel in the most spectacular fashion. Read here.

 

Helen's Health

WHEN YOUR FOOT DECIDES TO STOP WORKING

When your foot stops working

Yes. That’s right. Between the first and second severe allergic reaction, my right foot perplexingly started to misbehave. Just like that. On the day it happened I was working a news shift in an office. “Careful there,” my editor said as I stumbled on my way to the printer. I laughed. “I’ve got really bad pins and needles in my right foot. It must have just been the way I was sitting,” I casually responded.

Now I’m not a hypochondriac and figured there must be some reasonable explanation. Being quite a sporty person, I’m used to injuries, pulled muscles and have quite a high pain threshold.  I simply assumed my legs had been crossed or held in an uncomfortable position for too long and figured the numbness would subside. I was wrong. Five hours later my lower leg was still dead, I had no feeling in my toes. I thought things would improve by the next morning but my foot began to slap uncontrollably when I walked. So I booked an appointment to see a private physio.

My foot began to slap uncontrollably when I walked

“I don’t want to alarm you but think you need to book a GP appointment if things don’t improve,” she said after much poking, prodding, massaging and ultra-sounding. One week after the symptoms flared up, I was lying on the couch in front of my doctor who was unusually quiet as he examined me. I squirmed as my left foot and ankle were pushed, pulled and scored with a weird tool that resembled a knitting needle. Being hugely ticklish, the sensations weren’t that pleasant. He repeated the process on my right foot and ankle. “How does that feel?” he enquired. “I’ve no idea,” I replied, unable to feel a thing.

My left foot and ankle were pushed, pulled and scored with a weird tool that resembled a knitting needle

He immediately called a neurologist (brain specialist). The consultant on the end of the phone agreed to see me. My mum drove me to the hospital, but the A&E receptionist refused to accept the letter from my GP and I was told I’d have to wait in the emergency department. Many hours later I saw a doctor who then went to find the neurologist. He’d since gone home. Hours later I was x-rayed for a broken ankle – it wasn’t – before being told that I’d need to book another appointment with the GP who would refer me to the neurologist. Back to square one. I felt utterly deflated.

Not only was my foot playing up, I’d also begun to experience numbness on the left side of my face and my fingers felt as though they weren’t working properly. Alarmingly, I’d also begun dropping things without realising when distracted or in conversation. Things were really beginning to get me down. I’d always been an optimistic, glass half full person but was struggling to see the silver lining in all of this. My mind went into overdrive. My beloved aunt and cousin had both died from brain tumours at a young age. Was this the fate that awaited me?

I experienced numbness on the left side of my face and my fingers felt as though they weren’t working properly

Despite knowing better,  I turned to Google for clues. I shouldn’t have. I scared myself silly. At the same time, my tongue swelling episodes had ramped up phenomenally. Eventually, I saw a neurologist and a diagnosis of Foot Drop – paralysis/weakness in the foot –  came. Again there was no concrete explanation for it.  MRI scans of my brain were – thankfully clear – but I’d still need to be monitored.

Over on the allergy side of things my immunologist had ruled out anaphylaxis and ruled in idiopathic angioedema – unexplained deep tissue swelling. This occurs when the body mistakenly detects a harmless substance, such as a certain food, for something dangerous triggering the release of histamine to fight the threat. The protocol was to manage the symptoms in the same way one would for anaphylaxis because every reaction affected my airway.

I was also in the process of selling my house – one of the most stressful things you can do

On top of this, I was dealing with repeated bouts of episcleritis which caused excruciating pain and light sensitivity in my left eye. Having developed an allergy to ibuprofen – a painkiller I’d always been able to tolerate – I was back and forth to the eye specialist who prescribed steroids.  Oh,  and I was also in the process of selling my house – one of the most stressful things you can do.

Ironically, exercise – the one thing I’d always rely on to clear my head during stressful periods – was no longer an option. I was forced to suspend my gym and tennis memberships. I stopped socialising. And because I wasn’t well enough to do first-person fitness-based newspaper commissions, I missed out on work. I felt lost, frightened and trapped in a downward spiral. I didn’t know who I was anymore.

So what happened next? Read here. 

Helen's Health

THE VALENTINE’S GIFT LIKE NO OTHER

Valentine's gift

It’s Valentine’s Day 2017. Another afternoon, another specialist. This time I’m sat in front of a very jolly endocrinologist (hormone specialist) armed with my A4 lever arch file of hospital letters.  It’s been more than 14 months since my health started to horribly misbehave. The unexplained and spontaneous allergic reactions, the foot drop, the bizarre sensations in my face and fingers, the stabbing pains all over my body and the extreme heaviness in my legs. Although I’ve seen a raft of specialists, there’s been no explanation for the cause of my ill health and, in some ways, not knowing has been the hardest part.

“What’s been going on?” the consultant softly asked. “I don’t know where to begin,” I sighed, before handing over a couple of sheets of well-thumbed A4 paper. Keeping track of everything had become a full-time job in itself so I had compiled a succinct list of every clinical episode and every blood result in chronological order in the hope he would be able to glance at it and arrive at a concrete diagnosis. “Interesting,” he said. After five minutes he looked up. “Your latest blood tests have come back abnormal.” I could tell from the look on his face that he was about to give me some news.

“I could tell by his face that he was about to give me some news.”

Do you know what’s wrong with me?” I replied, heart pounding before blurting out that I just wanted the reactions to stop and to feel even 80 per cent again. “It looks like an auto-immune problem that’s attacking your thyroid,” he replied before explaining that I’d need to have another scan –  this time an ultrasound of my neck to double check that there were no suspicious lumps and bumps there.

“You’ll need to go on medication right away, have your bloods rechecked and come back in see me in a month or so,” he continued. “If you respond to the thyroxine we can discharge you and you’ll then need to be monitored by your GP  every six months.”

Now,  I’m not sure how many people would be delighted with a Hashimoto’s diagnosis but I was pleased purely because something had been identified at long last. I could have kissed him.  Hope flooded through my veins, especially as the thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system, which produces hormones that coordinate many of the body’s functions. Could this be the reason why my body was acting up? Was I finally on the road to recovery?

“Could this be the reason why my body was acting up?”

A few week later I had another appointment, this time with my wonderfully patient immunologist. My tongue was still spontaneously swelling although I’d noticed a pattern – whenever I ate citrus fruit, mature cheese, marmite, baked beans, and vinegar I’d have a reaction.

During the course of my research, I’d stumbled across something called Histamine Intolerance – a condition which causes allergic-type reactions in people who do not have sufficient levels of a gut enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO) to break down the histamine found in foods that contain high levels.

“I’d previously had skin prick allergy tests for all sorts of things including oranges, lemons, limes, and pineapple.”

Yet all had returned negative. But in those with histamine intolerance, the results always return negative because they’re allergic to the histamine in the food, not the protein. And guess what? High-histamine foods include mature cheese, wine, beer and cider, yeast, shellfish, sauerkraut, fermented soya products, and most fish. Certain fruits also release histamine including citrus varieties, grapes and strawberries!

I enthusiastically explained my findings to the immunologist who explained that there was very limited high-quality peer-reviewed research in this area. However, he also pointed out that it was not to say that the condition did not exist and supported me in my quest to try a low-histamine diet for three months, before attempting to reintroduce the food.

So far, so good. I’m having fewer reactions although I did have one recently after eating a packet of plain crisps. The intermittent stabbing pains which occur all over my body also seem to be improving so I’m keeping everything crossed.

I have a follow-up appointment with my immunologist next month and will be sure to report back on my progress.

 

 

 

Helen's Health